If you still haven’t adopted TikTok as a way of life, what are you waiting for? The popular app may be the topic of contentious headlines lately, but it only continues to take over the world in unprecedented ways. While it’s here, we’re going to talk about how you can get the most out of it.
Tiktok’s culture may feel intimidating to break into—with niche jokes, millions of people following for reasons we don’t fully comprehend yet and such a democratized algorithm it can be overwhelming to find what style you’re a fit for. But we’re here to demystify that landscape for you and show you how TikTok influencer marketing operates, how different industries make it work for them and break down the culture it all lives in.
A rabbit hole of discoverability
Do you wonder what makes TikTok tick? Why trends spread faster on this app than any other video content on social media? The answer lies in one key differentiator: the user experience.
The app is video-only content, which keeps the user focused on the endless scroll. The app breaks that endless scroll into two clear sections:
Following: A feed comprised of all the creators you follow.
FYP (For Your Page): A feed comprised of all the viral (and soon-to-be viral) content TikTok’s AI suggests.
If you want to take discovery a step further, TikTok has a dedicated Discovery page with all the trending hashtags and branded content popular that week. Even further, you can easily check if your favorite TikTok influencers are trending under any popular audio. This level of discovery and engagement make TikTok influencers powerful.
The nature of the app makes users feel like they’re always missing something. To avoid missing that “something” you follow everyone and what we’re left with are TikTokers averaging a few hundred thousand new followers every week. When you see an Instagram influencer, for example, with a steady 100k followers and a few thousand likes on each post you think they’re pretty established. But that’s the lower end for the average TikToker. It’s more typical to see popular creators with followers in the millions, growing rapidly, with tens, if not hundreds of thousands of likes on posts.
Popular creators on this app can reach and engage millions in minutes. And not just their followers, anyone.
A new age “commercial break”
The app and culture may be different than any social platform you’re familiar with, but it has a lot more in common with traditional advertising than you’d think.
Music is one of the key ways trends spread on the app. Any video that blows up using a particular sound becomes THE sound of the moment. It could be a week or two of hearing the same audios over and over (before someone inevitably remixes it). The behavior is a lot like traditional TV advertising. Even when the content itself isn’t an ad, it’s like a commercial jingle you just can’t get out of your head.
This has led several brands to create their own original songs and audios. When an influencer on the app uses your brand’s sound, it creates an instant trend. Other popular creators, mid-tier creators, average joes with five followers—all flood the FYP with that same sound or trend, making it stick enough to leave a growing impression.
And the app isn’t a total bystander in its trend culture. It notices the trends and pushes popular hashtags, sometimes branded hashtags, on its Discover page.
Sometimes a trend doesn’t have a name or a hashtag to discover it by. So TikTok will create one and highlight it on the Discover page, spreading it even further to untapped audiences.
Which TikTok house are you?
Social media would be nothing without collaboration. The Hype House made headlines at the top of the year when TikTok’s biggest creators came together to create content out of one LA mansion. Soon to follow was Sway House, Clubhouse and a myriad of other house accounts.
Teens living in opulent LA mansions isn’t a new content concept. We’ve seen the development of “houses” on other platforms, like Youtube’s Team 10 or The Vlog Squad. The difference is on TikTok each of these creators is already largely popular in their own right, having been brought together by proximity and massive follower counts. Hence, brands work with the individual creators more than they work with houses, while still benefitting from their shared audience power.
The TikTok queen and original Hype House member, Charlie D’Amelio, regularly collabs with brands that reflect her personal interests and values. Outside of her dance content, the 16-year-old partners with organizations like UNICEF to create anti-bullying content, or beauty brand Morphe to release a fresh makeup collection that matches her and her 77 million followers’ style. Suddenly TikTok trends become bigger than the app, they become business.
Fenty Beauty approached TikTok houses a little differently. As an established brand, they put together a curated group of influencers themselves, sent them to live in an LA house with a hyper focus on beauty content. Rhianna’s official makeup artist would even occasionally drop in, amping up that feeling of one big fun house.
The face of TikTok houses is adjusting to influencer life in lockdown. Rather than in-person collabs, now you’ll see many housemates contribute content from their respective homes and states, unified by hashtags, products and merch.
The many sides of TikTok
Do you know what side of TikTok you’re on?
Perhaps more important than understanding TikTok houses, is understanding the many pockets of TikTok subcultures you’ll find yourself in. While the algorithm of the For You Page is largely democratized—serving up everything from big content creators to virtually non-existent ones, videos that have already gone viral to videos where you’re the first potential like—it’s still a learning algorithm. It learns your interests through the content you engage with and curates your FYP feed to reflect that.
Your own engagement patterns may lead you to an excess of videos from dreamy #cottagecore TikTok, or #woke TikTok if you’re political, or even #frog TikTok if you’re a little strange. You’d be surprised at how specific the algorithm gets.
But the takeaway to keep in mind is that these trends transcend the houses and sides and generations of TikTok. The music, dances, jokes, news, brand deals—if it’s popularized by the users, it’ll end up on practically every demographic’s FYP, subsequently used by every type of influencer.
How unexpected industries capitalize on TikTok culture, the right way
Despite the perception that TikTok is a Gen Z playground, it’s culture of fast-paced information sharing is successful for decidedly non-Gen Z-driven brands and industries.
Take healthcare for example. Dr. Austin Chiang isn’t just a popular creator on DocTok (the medical side of TikTok) he’s just popular. He’s quick to hop on trending music and memes to relay health education in a surprisingly relatable way. He interacts with a varied circle of creators on the app, making him visible to a huge audience.
Here he used a trend popularized by a Japanese lifestyle creator and tweaked it to suit his medical content:
He’s joined in the ranks by popular medical TikTokers like OBGYN Dr. Staci, educating young women across the app by answering their questions daily, and psychologist Dr. Janine Kreft, sharing healthy communication and coping mechanisms by acting out requested scenarios from followers.
Other industries, like media, have found different ways to approach TikTok’s culture that remain true to their outlet, but relevant enough to make them influential within the app. Washington Post is without a doubt the most dominant in this category, joining virtually every trend while making it news.
They’ve crafted enough of a presence that other users tag Washington Post to show them live updates of current events circulating within the app. By adopting early and staying consistent, they’re giving an entirely new generation a North Star for news, meeting them where they are.
Harvard Business Review has taken a slightly different approach. Rather than having one dedicated social entity, they popcorn content between team members so you often see different faces. Their videos are focused on dishing out bite-sized versions of their article content, like Tips for Getting a Virtual Internship:
The relationship developed between these industries and the user works both ways. Not only is the wild spread of content valuable engagement for any of these brands or industries, but the awareness and relatability are also hugely valuable to the community it’s serving on TikTok. For industries like education and healthcare, largely regarded as closed off or gated, the representation creates real trust with the next generation of consumers. It’s the definition of “meeting them where they are.”
Are you a TikTok “culture fit”?
TikTok’s fast-paced culture may make memes fleeting, but it also makes influence attainable. Without studio equipment or highly produced content, people all over the world are creating and defining influential content. And TikTok is right there, delivering an audience to latch on to all of it.
No matter what industry you serve or what genre of content you create, it’s not your job to “fit in” on TikTok. It’s your job to stand out.
If you’re looking to get your foot in the door on TikTok, learn more about how creating videos for the platform aligns with your overall video marketing strategy.